When we are stressed, we may cry, take our stress out on others, even if they have nothing to do with our stress, or on the flip side, vent to a loved one about what is bringing us down. Rarely do we think about the impact stress has on our body, specifically on our waistline. But a quick look at human physiology helps explain how internal strife can lead us to pack on external pounds.
When we are stressed out, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies, leading to the release of various hormones. One of these hormones is Cortisol, which is sometimes regarded as the “stress hormone.” Excess cortisol is linked to greater levels of abdominal or visceral fat, which is not only unattractive but also plays a major role in a host of health problems. Such fat has been shown to increase risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
Let’s get real, for the stress-eaters out there, when you are stressed, do you go for a salad? Absolutely not! Depending on your desire for sweet or salty, you go for ice cream, chocolate or chips. This is no accident. Stress reduces serotonin, often called the “feel good” hormone because it greatly influences positive moods. When our serotonin levels are reduced, we naturally look for a quick “pick me up.” Sugary, processed foods can provide a temporary state of pleasure by quickly raising our serotonin levels—but as many of us know, these foods can become addictive. A continuous cycle of going for fatty food when stressed inevitably leads to weight gain.
Ok, so stress can make us fat, so what can we do to manage our stress? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but there is good news. Managing stress should not itself be stressful. It’s about doing what makes you feel good. Go for a run, do yoga, or meditate. If you are intrigued about meditation but not sure where to begin, check out a previous post on easy ways to meditate.
In summary, cortisol and serotonin are the major culprits of why stress makes us fat, but there are plenty of ways to help manage the impact stress has on our bodies. Find the feel-good prescription that works best for you!
Stacy Slawitsky turned to yoga and mindfulness as a means to relieve the stress of a demanding job at a Big 4 Accounting Firm. Her passion to share the benefits of these practices with others led her to start ZenConnect. She conducts stress management programs for companies throughout the Boston area.